Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Mutation in Celtic Place Names

Breton, like other Celtic languages, changes the sounds of letters, depending on their position and function in a sentence. Unlike the grammatical inflection in other Indo-European languages, it is the first letter that is affected (always a consonant) and there are specific parts of speech which trigger the if and when of mutation (articles, adverbs, numbers, conjunctions, adjectives and pronouns).
Table of Breton, Welsh and Cornish mutations
Table of Breton, Welsh and Cornish mutations
The soft mutations are by far the most common and those are the ones we will be looking at here. Cornish and Welsh mutations are very similar and have a similarly powerful effect on the orthography and pronunciation of place names. 
So, let's look at a few examples:
Landevennec Abbey
Landévennec is the 5th century abbey (lan) of Tévennec (another name for Saint-Gwenolé/Winwaloe) -Brittany.

Llanfair (see L is for Llan) is St. Mary's Church -Wales.

Hengoad (see H is for Hen) is an old (hen) wood (koad) -Brittany.

Aodoù an Arvor is 'cliffs/coast' by (the) sea, (ar) mor -Brittany.

Felinfach means 'little' (bach) 'mill' (melin) -Wales.

 Treveur is a 'big' (meur) village (tre) -Brittany. 
It is still Trémeur in French.

Zawn Duel is a 'dark' (tewl/teul) 'cliff' (zawn/sawan) -Cornwall.

And Plougastel is 'castle' (kastell) 'village' -Brittany.

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